How Sweet It Is

A health hardship leads to cupcake commerce

For Andra Hall, entrepreneurship was a matter of medical necessity. In 2004, her 1-year-old daughter underwent a string of surgeries to correct a severe case of sleep apnea. “I did major soul-searching to come up with something that would be flexible enough to let me be there when Camille needed me,” she recalls.

Settling on her longtime interest in baking, Hall created a business plan and by 2006, she and her husband, Curtis, refinanced their house to obtain the $40,000 they needed to launch CamiCakes Cupcakes (www.camicakes.com; 404-748-4288). The money allowed them to buy secondhand equipment, create marketing materials, and put down a security deposit on the Orange Park, Florida, space they would rent.

In 2008, another store opened in Jacksonville, Florida, and a third store the following year in Atlanta. CamiCakes, named for the couple’s daughter, generated $1.1 million in revenues in 2009 and anticipates $2 million by year-end. But Hall’s path to business ownership wasn’t all sweet.

With 18 cupcake flavors—the most popular being red velvet, sweet potato, and carrot cake—CamiCakes’ rapid growth was one of Hall’s greatest challenges.

The baking began each day at 6 a.m., and the doors were open to customers from 10:30 a.m. until 9 p.m.  When she opened the Georgia store, Hall drove the 350 miles between there and the Florida stores to oversee the baking and customer service in each store and handle all the paperwork. “I was just doing too much,” the 38-year-old recalls. “And then I got really, really sick and was down for more than two weeks.”

At that point, Hall knew she had to come up with a way to make sure each store could run without her constant attention. First, over the course of two months, she created a manual of operations so each store would have the same written standard operating procedures ranging from the recipes used to the steps to take if a register went down. “I’m more of a do er, so it was a challenge to have to stop and make sure everything was clearly documented for other people to understand,” Hall says.

Next, she chose one store to focus most of her energy on. Because Atlanta was the biggest market and the store there was the most profitable, Hall moved her family there and established it as CamiCakes’ headquarters. The third step, loosening the reins, was the hardest. Hall made the transition somewhat easier by hiring from within rather than seeking outsiders to manage the Florida stores. “I had faith that they could do the job,” she says.

Even with delegating some of the work, Hall has a lot to keep her occupied. She balances raising a now healthy 6-year-old Camille with managing her growing empire. By fall, she will launch a van that travels to festivals, parties, and conferences. Besides bringing the cupcakes to where the crowds are, it will give CamiCakes another mode of advertising and should increase in-store sales by at least 10%.  “A store, excluding salaries, for us is about $7,000 or $8,000 a month,” she adds about the savings in overhead.

Hall is also scouting out other cities in the Southeast to expand the 30-employee firm. But no matter how much success she experiences, Hall says nothing is better than spending her days doing something she loves. “Being able to make a living from it is just the cherry on top.”

ACROSS THE WEB
  • Art Hall

    They kept heir eyes on the prize. A lot of sacrifice and self discipline went into this effort. Hopefully, they’ll continue to grow the business.

  • Nikki

    Wow, great inspiration!

  • Jennifer Murray

    Live in Jacksonville – love her cupcakes!

  • Clinton

    A witty idea and faith in God is a power mix.  It was meant for me to read this.

  • Helema Kelly

    Totally awesome

  • W.

    Hi I live in s small town called Quincy Florida maybe 20 min from Tallahassee. Everytime I go to Jacksonville I have to stop by one of the shops. The cupcakes are GREAT!!! I was there July 5, 2011.